This dish comes from the town of Shunde south of Guangzhou and is stuffed with fish.
How To Make Chinese Cantonese Stuffed Peppers With Fish?
Now, there’s a specific breed of fish that’s used again and again in Shunde cuisine – lingyu [鲮鱼], a freshwater mud carp that’s native to the Pearl and Mekong rivers.
It’s got a great taste to it but is unfortunately super boney – so traditionally it’s been used in pretty inventive ways… making everything from a fish soup that has the consistency of congee, to fish tofu with no tofu, to these sorts of meat fillings.
So if you go to a Cantonese market, they’ve often got a specific stall devoted to just cleaning and filleting ling yu… and I’ve always just found something awesomely hypnotic about watching the lingyu vendors do their thing.
Now we know that unless you happen to live in South China or Vietnam, you’re probably not going to find mud carp.
So we also tested this using both bass and tilapia, and found that it definitely still works with one important adjustment.
See, lingyu is a pretty umami fish, so replicate that flavor we found that supplementing the paste with dried scallop does a great job.
We used five grams of dried scallops, or you could also use dried shrimp, and let those reconstitute in 50 grams of hot, boiled water for 30 minutes.
Once it’s about room temp toss in the fridge, because we’ll be using the soaking liquid for the paste.
Making fish paste really is a great option for any sort of smaller bonier river fish, so just in case let me just show you how you’d work with lingyu real quick.
To deskin those fillets, first cut into three sections.
Take the one of the two sides with the thicker skin, make a cut near the back of the fillet, then firmly press down on the skin with your knife.
Then grab the fish meat and start to pull it from the skin – once you get the hang of it, you can skin a fillet pretty easily.
I know this here wasn’t exactly my cleanest work, but whatever, it’ll end up a paste anyway.
Then take the center portion and slice out the skin just like you’d do in the Western style. and no matter what fish you’re working with, just make sure you’ve got 250 grams of fillets in all.
Now, this fish still has a bunch of little bones in it, so first cut the fillets across into thin slices to break the bones into smaller pieces.
If you’re working with lingyu, you should actually be able to hear the bones cracking.
But assuming you’re working with some sort of boneless, skinless bass or tilapia fillets, just join in here and give your fish a quick mince.
Then once it’s in smaller pieces, just grab a knife, settle in, and start chopping,periodically folding the meat over itself so that we can break this all down into a paste.
We found that getting there takes about five minutes if working with lingyu, ten minutes with bass, and tilapia somewhere in between.
Depending on your fish it might end up a touch more granular than this, don’t panic it’ll be ok in the end.
Now toss that in a bowl, and we’ll prep everything else for the paste.
So take out those reconstituted scallops, give them a mince, and set them aside.
Then to the soaking liquid toss in 25 grams of cornstarch and mix well… that’ll be an important bit for our emulsion.
We’ll also be using about 15 grams of scallion, finely sliced, and 50 grams of water chestnut, smashed then finely minced.
Now back to our fish.
So to your paste first toss in 4 grams or about a teaspoon of salt then go at it and mix it for about a minute.
Then take your cornstarch mixture and add it in bit by bit.
What we’re doing here’s developing the myosin in the mixture to help get this into a sticky meat emulsion.
There’s a lot of variables at play when it comes to myosin development – the freshness of your fish – the fresher the better, the temperature of the mixture – the colder the better, the fat content of the fish – the leaner the better, and of course the mixing time.
For us, four minutes was enough, and yes…
I do know that I do hold my chopsticks like a moron when I’m stirring meat mixtures.
But once you’re looking at a more uniform paste, it’s time for my favorite technique in all of Chinese cooking: ‘dat’-ing the mixture.
So that’s basically just grabbing your mix and repeatedly smashing it all down against your bowl about ten times which helps develop springiness.
Then season with a half teaspoon sugar and a quarter teaspoon white pepper powder…add in the scallop, the water chestnut, and the scallion… give it another thorough mix and your fish filling is good to go.
So now for the chilis – we’re using four Jianjiao [尖椒], a mild sort of chili that’s common in Guangdong.
There’s nothing too special about them, they’re about as hot as a jalapeno so that’s probably what I’d reach for in the States.
For these I personally like to chop off the very end because that bit loves to scorch, and of course, they’ve got to be deseeded.
Then, to help the filling stick to the chili and not fall out, rub each half with a good bit of cornstarch, smacking out any extra.
Then just grab your chilis and stuff your mixture in.
We find doing it with chopsticks lets us stuff it all a bit fuller, but totally use a rubber spatula if you prefer.
If you find you have some extra filling, just shape those into fish cakes and pan-fry after you do the chilis.
As always, first long you – get your wok piping hot, shut off the heat, add in your oil – here we’re panfrying so about a half a cup, and give it a swirl to get a nice non-stick surface.
Then up your flame and heat the oil until bubbles start to form around a pair of chopsticks, or about 175 centigrade, then shut off the heat again.
Carefully lay your chilis face down into the oil, pressing them gently against the wok.
Then swap your flame to medium high, and press down on them with a spatula.
If you’re using a round-bottomed wok like us, every 20 seconds or so tilt the wok in a different direction to let the chilis cook evenly… or if you’re working with something flat bottomed, just fill it all up with about a half inch of oil.
After about three minutes of frying, the filling should be pretty golden brown so pour a tablespoon of mijiu rice wine around the wok and quickly cover to steam… swapping for sake or water if you can’t find Chinese mijiu.
After a quick fifteen second steam, uncover, flip the chilis around and fry for another fifteen seconds, heat off, and out.
Make sure any excess oil’s drained out, and toss on a plate.
Now at a restaurant in Shunde, they’ll usually serve this along with a seasoned house soy sauce. sometimes it’s a dip and sometimes it’s smothered.
Now know there are as many seasoned soy sauces as there are Cantonese chefs, but one variety we like mixes in a half teaspoon of sugar with about 20 mL of hot boiled water, a tablespoon, and a half of light soy sauce, and a half teaspoon of fish sauce. which’s a real thing here we swear.
So then just pour that all over everything… and your Cantonese pan-fried chilis are done.
So the stuffed chili is one of the stuffed stuff in a Cantonese stuffed dish that’s
called panfried stuffed three treasures – “Jian Niang Sanbao” [煎酿三宝] which also contains stuffed bitter gourd and eggplant.
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